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When English Sounds Foreign

South East Asian women selling produce at a market

A full-time job

Ever had a full-time job? Lincoln McIlroy just got one: Learning the language and culture of the country where he and his wife, Alisha, plan to minister. Instead of taking a course, they’re learning it the way they might someday learn an unwritten tribal language.

Carrying on

The foundation of their learning is eight hours a week with a language helper. “Right now, we spend them getting nouns and verbs and practical expressions,” Lincoln said. “After the session, we put all that information into a program on our computer, and are able to review it later.”

Among their discoveries so far: “There are many different verbs to describe the various ways of carrying things. You can membawa (carry something light), memikul (carry things suspended from a pole or stick resting on your shoulders), menggendong (carry something heavy or precious, like a baby) or memanggul (carry something on your head or shoulders). I think there are probably quite a few more that we haven’t learned yet.”

Learning All the Time

They also spend time on “cultural exposure” — just getting out among people. During this time, they’re also keen to chat with people, since these are opportunities to practice language.

So Alisha’s ears perked up when a man asked her a question as they rode a bus. “She wracked her brain, trying to identify what he was saying,” Lincoln said. “Not coming up with anything, she said ‘Apa?’, which means ‘What?’. He repeated his question.”

She still didn’t get it, even after he said it several more times. Finally, Elroy, their 7-year-old son, spoke up: “Mommy, he’s speaking English!”

“It turns out,” Lincoln said, “he was saying ‘Are you from America?’ But we try so hard to understand their language, that when we come across someone who speaks some English, it actually sounds foreign to us.”

And Ten More Times

Language learning can be funny and interesting, and it can be tedious and boring.

“Mainly, our language study consists of hours of learning new words, recording them and playing them back on the computer while looking at pictures of the items,” Lincoln said. “One of the most important aspects of language learning is just hearing it over and over and over again. We sit at the computer and will listen to certain words or phrases 10 times in a row, before moving down the list to do the same thing with each of hundreds of items.”

Pray that Lincoln and Alisha find in God the strength and will to persevere, as well as the ability to laugh at themselves.

Posted in Asia-Pacific, News, Prayer Requests